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Monday, June 1, 2009

7 Habits for a Longer Life

In the United States, life expectancy was about 48 years for women and 46 years for men born in 1900. Just 50 years later, it climbed to 71 for women and 66 for men. And recent numbers put life expectancy at roughly 80 for women and 75 for men.

There’s still considerable debate about the achievable upper limit of human lifespan, but France’s Jeanne Calment lived to be 122. American Gertrude Baines, believed to be the world’s oldest living person at 114.

Most experts agree that increases in lifespan are due to better nutrition, health care, and disease prevention and treatment. But research is also identifying various traits and habits that aid healthy aging.
  1. Rest up. Getting the right amount of sleep is important to health and lifespan. The problem is figuring out what that right amount really is. In a 2002 study based on the self-reported sleep habits of more than a million people, about seven hours a night produced optimal longevity. Those reporting more than eight hours or less than five hours had, on average, shorter life spans.
  2. Eat right. In a study of 20,000 British participants, eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, drinking alcohol moderately, exercising, and not smoking were habits associated with a potential 14 extra years of life.
  3. Make friends. When in comes to longevity, having a network of close pals may be even more important than family. A 10-year study in Australia found that people with large social networks were 22% less likely to die over the following decade than those who reported having fewer friends.
  4. Use it, don’t lose it. Your mind and body will wither unless you use them, so it’s important to exercise both. There’s no sense in living to 100 if you can’t remember names or take care of yourself. Keep your brain engaged, and get your body moving. In one Harvard study, vigorous exercise extended lifespan and reduced risk of death.
  5. Mind your middle. Maintaining a healthy weight and trim waistline may be key to longevity. A recent study by the National institutes of Health found that waist circumference was a strong predictor of mortality. Measurements of more than 44 inches in men or 41 inches in women were associated with 25% higher mortality rates.
  6. Get fresh air. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a reduction in air pollution in cities between 1978 and 2001 was estimated to have increased the lifespan of city-dwellers by five to 10 months, depending on the amount of pollution reduced.
  7. Make it a family thing. In a study of centenarians in the U.S., people who had a 100-year-old brother or sister lived longer than others born in the same year. Men with a centenarian sibling were 17 times as likely to be centenarians themselves. Women were eight times as likely.

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